Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Remembering Tony Rivera

Below: Tony Rivera, by Bill Herwig, 1934.
Another animation veteran who often falls below the radar because he was, well, just a solid, dependable, no-nonsense animation artist who worked in the trenches and contributed to great art: Tony Rivera... Tony came into the cartoon business in the middle thirties, worked at one of Grim Natwick's assistants on "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," walked out on strike at Disney's in 1941 and thereafter worked at almost every animation studio of note until his retirement half a century later. (Click on that link up above for tales of Tony on "Cartoon Diaries.") When I knew Tony, he was doing layouts for Hanna-Barbera on "Yogi Bear" and "Quick Draw McGraw." I knew him not through my background-artist father, but through my mother, who dragged me to weekly piano lessons with Tony's wife Mary. Their Tujunga house sat high on the slopes of the Angeles Crest Mountains, and I have vivid memories of the long, vertical driveway, yucca plants, and the sharp odor of hardwood mesquite. (Then as now, lots of animation people lived in the uplands of the Crescenta-Canada valley, which encompasses Sunland-Tujunga, La Crescenta, and La Canada-Flintridge.) I would almost always arrive early for my piano lesson (I was a ghastly student), and beeline for Tony's studio on the west end of their airy house. There I would watch Mr. Rivera draw layouts for the latest H-B short. The studio was roaring then (this was 1960) and stuffed to the rafters. Tony, like many staff artists, worked at home, turning out the layouts for a "Quick Draw" or "Yogi" short every week. I would stand there, my 11-year-old mouth hanging open, and watch him draw -- the horizon line, trees, the curves and planes of Yogi and Boo-Boo in the foreground And he would talk to me about what he was doing, show me the storyboards from which he worked, and demonstrate the Lucy where he enlarged story panels. I remember it seemed a lot different than watching my father painting water colors in his studio. And we're now further away from that time than Tony was from his beginnings at the Disney Hyperion studio in 1960. Scary.
Below: In 1985 (a year before his death), Tony Rivera accepts the Golden Award from Local 839 Business Representative Bud Hester.

7 comments:

Jeff Massie said...

Tony Rivera and my dad remained very close friends for over fifty years, from their starting days at Disney until Tony's death in 1986.

Tony spent most of the last twenty years of his life doing layouts for a certain well-known TV animation studio, which to paraphrase Chuck Jones shall remain unnamed but the initials were H and B. Tony's consummate skills put him at the top of his craft, and as long as his comtemporaries called the shots he could pretty much name his terms. But some of the Younger Turks, used to getting their way with older artists desperate for work*, needed to be reminded how Tony expected to be treated.

On one occasion, the Powers That Be were desperate to get Tony in to work on a superhero-style show for which they were having trouble getting qualified talent. Tony obstinately refused -- he really didn't want to have to work that hard, and he wanted to be assigned to one of the cartoon shows.

Finally, he was told he could work on whatever he wanted, and he showed up the next morning ad sat down at his desk. "Sorry, Tony," said the supervisor, "but the Flintstones scenes haven't come through yet ... so we're going to start you off on some Superfriends ..." And the supervisor dropped the scenes off and left.

Tony was no fool -- he knoew what this meant. He sat there for a minute, got up, and took the scene back to the supervisor.

"Call me when you have some work for me," he said calmly, handing back the scene.

And he went home.

*What, you think that only started happening when we got old? ;)

Jeff Massie said...

Here's a link to Jim Franzen's tale of Tony's involvement in a mysterious ritual known as "The Drop".

floyd Norman said...

Scott Shaw! and I were layout supervisors at H-B back in the seventies. We were lucky enough to have Tony Rivera on our team. Unlike a lot of the younger guys at the studio, we knew Tony's background, and what a fantastic artist we had helping us on our show.

Tony would always ask if something he had done was okay. Of course, his work was brilliant -- but he would always ask.

Mild mannered, and low key, Tony was the consumate professional. He made us look good.

Jeff Massie said...

I didn't mention the supervisor's name for obvious reasons -- although I'm glad to certify that it was neither Floyd nor Scott. And in all fairness to the "guilty" party, the crime may have been nothing more than bad scheduling.

So many artists in our biz are mild-mannered and low-key by nature, while others will thow tantrums at the least hint of a perceived slight. The point of my story was that no one who knew Tony would ever mistake him for a pushover.

He indeed made us all look good, and we need more like him.

Juan Rivera said...

I just googled Tony Rivera and almost fell out of my chair when I saw this great site. I'm Tony's kid Juan! Tony was my old dad! I'm so happy to see that he hasn't been forgotten. He was a humble man and a wonderful father. He also had a great group of friends and coworkers who often came over to the house when I was a kid. I recognize some of the names on this blog as kids of his friends. I think I have some extremely funny cartoons that your fathers drew and that I have saved all these years. Now that I know there are folks out there who would appreciate seeing them I will work to put them on to my web site. You can see a few at http://www.juanr.com by clicking the "Pop's Cartoons" menu button. If you'd like to drop me a note my email is juan-rivera@sbcglobal.net. Thank you so much for putting this together!

Anonymous said...

Hi and what a surprise! Tony was my uncle! I remember visiting him and my aunt mary when I was a kid. My dad is his brother, Larry. My wife ran across this blog yesterday and gave me the link. Nice to meet you all. My name is John Albert Rivera

Anonymous said...

Oops forgot to leave my email address: riverajohn9@hotmail.com. Thanks a lot for putting this site together!

Site Meter